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Dog-walking startup Wag raised $300M, then things got messy (cnn.com)
200 points by danso 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 272 comments

What I don't get about the Vision Fund is how so many of its investments lack (pun intended) vision.

Other than the ARM, Nvidia, and a few billion in biotech (about $3 billion[1]) investments, so much of the fund has gone into pretty "obvious" traditional startups.

If I had a $100 billion fund, I wouldn't be swinging for these singles and doubles (which Uber and WeWork were by the time Softbank got involved, although these companies can still provide value to customers).

Vision Fund should've been out-competing Google X to become the financial backer of basically the next Bell Labs. Instead of 3% biotech and 20% Uber and WeWork and Wag, I'd have flipped those two numbers.

The biggest loss from the Vision Fund is the opportunity cost of all the great disease-eliminating, fundamental-science research that could've had much greater upside than WeWork. And I never hear that opportunity cost discussed.

EDIT: I've added an additional comment with more supporting arguments for taking bigger risks but more ambitious risks when managing large sums: https://news.ycombinator.com/edit?id=21096651

[1]: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/softbanks-vision-fund-deployi...

A large part of this vision fund is basically Saudi oil money. These folks realize that oil doesn't have that much future if you think in terms of hundreds of years, so they are looking to diversify. Vision fund is not a tool to be on the cutting edge, its just a means to not be left behind. Hence they let VC market decide which horse is worth backing and then they swing their dollars around to see what happens.

That’s another thing I never got about Saudi’s investments. To me the obvious strategy with all the money would have been to not invest in empty skyscrapers or foreign investments, but pick two or three areas in which you massively bolster research and investment in an area like solar energy. Investment would be local and you try to attract all to talent in the field for both fundamental research as well as to fund companies. Investing in the Vision Fund might safe the cash, but does little for the economic future of UAE.

The Saudis have also done that with KAUST; from what I heard they have turned off all their weird laws in this region of SA (like a SEZ), and were hiring aggressively a few years ago (from the US). I occasionally stumble on some interesting projects from this University, but I for one would be very weary of moving to a desert region where women were disallowed from driving until a few years back, and need to be draped from head to toe in black.

To be fair, there is something more in the picture. UAE for instance is much more cosmopolitan, but has failed to be a research hub, in contrast to rich city states like Singapore. Iran, their neighbour, produces some very smart people however - who then inevitably move out, considering the flavour regime in that country.

Hate to be that guy but I see it so often on HN that I think it’s worth correcting.

You’re wary of moving to a desert special economic zone if you are unsure or suspicious of it

You’re weary of it if you have moved to many such zones already and you are a bit sick of it


Hong Kong and Monaco?

Also Vatican City.

I was sticking to the ones known for being wealthy, otherwise I would have mentioned San Marino and Liechtenstein.

I think Vatican City qualifies as being wealthy af.

The context is "but has failed to be a research hub, in contrast to rich city states like Singapore."

Are these city states research hubs? Hong Kong or Liechtenstein perhaps.

I mean, Vatican City is probably the oldest research hub in current existence.

Minor nitpick, but UAE (United Arab Emirates) is not the same as Saudi Arabia. It is a neighbouring country.

Not really a minor nitpick.

Thats because the Saudi wealth fund, is not for Saudi Arabia but House Saud.

Norway did the same thing, it has worked very well for their economy so far.

Norway's sovereign wealth fund is vastly larger than the Saudi Arabian one, SA don't have much room to maneuver if the Aramco ipo doesn't work and these investments fail

> vastly larger than the Saudi Arabian one

By one order of magnitude these days, the Norwegian fund's market value was less than $100b in 2004 though.

Saudis do not want smart people being middle class in their country. That would ruin their theocratic state.

When you have so much money to play with, there is just no one basket to put even most of your eggs in. Yes, they have put many into Vision Fund, but many other arenas (especially political ones) demand funding and will not go unfed by mama bird and her oil money.

Saudi Arabia has a problem in that its far larger than UAE and it is also the home of Islam. Loosening cultural restrictions might fly in Dubai, but I'm not sure the Muslim world would be as okay with the same happening in the country that hosts their most sacred site.

Why not? Most of the Muslim world is far less restrictive than Saudi Arabia. And even if they don't like some future loosened restriction there's nothing they can do about it.

I guess it’s just a different vision then. Theirs is the vision of a Saudi ruling family with enough capital to survive the collapse of demand for oil over time.

And by following VCs they gave VC backed start-ups a nice alternative to cash out in case IPOs don't look promising enough. I could imagine some VCs are considering that already.

This should be an obvious warning sign.

Someone whose core business is losing money is trying to recoup them in an area that they have no clue about.

This is a typical guy who feels pressure so he buys at the top and puts his money based on recommendation of others in a business that is going to be next big thing. A typical sucker in other words who will end up penniless.

Poor Saudis.

Poor Saudis.

They should invest in nanotechnology, and make the world’s smallest violin.

>> Someone whose core business is losing money

What, oil? Go look up the average barrel cost for Saudi oil (hint: it's less than 2 lattes). Demand needs to drop to essentially zero before renewables are competitive with their oil. They are not losing money.

> This is a typical guy who feels pressure so he buys at the top and puts his money based on recommendation of others in a business that is going to be next big thing

Well that is how the current VC market works - sadly

Hundreds of years? There’s a reasonable probability _human civilization_ doesn’t have hundreds of years on this planet.

There is always a non zero probability of mankind extinction but within hundreds of years it should be fairly, fairly low

Human civilization can die much easier than mankind. Civilizations have collapsed multiple times before. Back then the effects were localized because civilizations were localized. In today's globalized world the effects could be much more serious.

> Civilizations have collapsed multiple times before

Yeah but it's not like the variables at work before are the same at work today. With the current set of variables, even LESS likely than ever than what you call the "current civilization" would collapse completely, because it's massively decentralized in terms of knowledge.

That is of course true, but I think that the number of variables is so huge that nobody really knows why civilizations collapse. For example, while as you say knowledge is more distributed today, a lot fewer people know how to life self-sufficiently and knowledge is a lot more specialized that it used to be the cause. Proverbially nobody knows how to make a pencil from scratch.

I've noticed that assumption is heavily baked in everywhere you look. I'll bet after the hundreds of thousands of years we have made it so far, humanity, in one form or another, will continue to persist.

I didn’t say “humanity.” I said “human civilization.” I do think there’s hope for humanity, but I’m a lot more bearish about civilization.

If human civilization collapses and humans go back to hunter-gatherer subsistence, it means death to about 95-97% of humans.

Not precisely an extinction, but still not a lot of hope.

The problem when you have so much money to invest is that your customers need to actually invest it. It's much harder to invest $1-$5M at a time when you can just go back to the WeWork pool and drop $2B.

It's like painting a wall mural using fine tipped brushes, rather than wide paint rollers or a paint gun. You get the job done so much faster, but your quality will suffer tremendously.

What about scaling a VC organization ? With hundreds of managers, A lot of institutional knowledge, helpful infrastructure for said company, and deep ties between companies ?

Come to think of it, it has many similarities to Google X. But that's extremely hard to build.

Where do you get the people to entrust millions or billions? The organization will be flooded with networks of people who will scam away all money.

Such an organization has to be grown slowly. But that takes too much time if you have the opportunity to manage huge amounts of money right away.

There has been disappointingly little success from all of Google X's many investment dollars. I think with the hundreds of managers, institutional knowledge and helpful infrastructure comes a bureaucracy that kills a lot of what it creates.

you're right that Google X is a money sink - one of the first things Ruth Porat did when she came in is take an axe to it as it had been a sore point with instutitional investors for a while

"lets do Google X but with $100 billion" is a laughable business model

>Google X is a money sink

Dunno. I'm not quite sure of the figures but in 2015 they put in $3.5bn for the year. Against that Waymo which came out of X was recently valued at $105bn (https://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/27/waymo-valuation-cut-40percen...)

Unless your goals are wealth redistribution and job creation and science...

You're describing Ycombinator.

Sure, though from what I found the Vision Fund is about 10x larger than Ycombinator, so doing the Ycon thing at a VF level would probably involve some scaling challenges. But fundamentally, it seems a better way to go about things than putting nearly all of your eggs into late-stage start ups with highly correlated business models & failure modes.

Since when did YC have hundreds of managers?

$100B is not that much money. (Note to self: you just said $100B isn't that much money. Get head examined.) Bezos can aggressively handle it. Gates aggressively can handle it. Buffett can aggressively it. What is so special about the Vision Fund that it wants to put its money in the likes of Uber and WeWork? I would think knowledgable VCs would do their due diligence and avoid these companies.

Investing into Uber at $47B isn't vision.

Buffet is sitting on $120B of cash: https://www.inc.com/jason-aten/warren-buffett-has-a-122-bill...

Bezos isn't a VC, he owns the greatest demand engine the world has ever known, and that matters when spending money.

And Gates ? he deals, smartly, with much lower sums. His energy VC is for example, has $1B.

It's not so easy spending $40B-$50B in 3 years, like the vision fund did.

> It's not so easy spending $40B-$50B in 3 years, like the vision fund did.

It is if you buy a few healthy companies instead of gambling in the early stage startup market.

Bezos was a seed investor in Google in 1998. Bezos Expeditions is a massive family foundation fund.

You're right, it isn't vision. Valuations are largely bullshit, so "at $47B" is finance trickery.

Or maybe they did their due diligence and everyone else is wrong. We're talking like the companies have already collapsed while it could be the best investment ever.

Except that this isn't what Vision fund is about.

What you are describing is more like a pre-seed/seed fund of which there are thousands around including YC. Sure they don't have the capital but that is often not the blocker for most of these companies.

Vision fund is focused on taking successful companies global. And using their capital to knock out competitors and their experience in managing execution risk.

And their "vision" seems to be focused on a world where everything is provided by autonomous and robotic systems. And where Uber, Wag etc are the brands that leverage them.

The goal of the vision fund is to make companies a monopoly by selling below cost (using the vc money), and waiting for the rival companies to flee the market. It does not really care about the specific area.

This strategy will backfire in a fragmented market. I.e. if the competitor hold on.

Yeah, I get that and my post was kind of an implicit difference between what they "are" versus what I think they "ought to be" (admittedly easier to be in my armchair investor seat than Softbank's).

But their returns from Uber, WeWork, and Wag kind of support my point, whereas ARM and Nvidia support yours/theirs.

My broader point is that most informed technologists would've said three years ago that the ARM and Nvidia investments made more long-term sense than Uber and WeWork, yet Uber and WeWork are a disproportionate amount of the portfolio.

So if the Vision Fund isn't even going to succeed at the "scale big companies globally" approach, I'm not sure they would've done much worse going with the approach I suggested (or doing more deals like ARM and Nvidia, maybe they could've taken a huge activist stake in IBM or other large existing tech cos).

I’m unsure the point of the vision fund was to make safe long term bets. At the end of the day, it’s unclear to me how nvidia would use an extra 10B dollars - other than pour that into R&D (in which case does that really cost $10B - and if your thesis is R&D, universities tend to do a better job anyways).

The thesis for Uber (and wework) was simpler - assuming they had sound unit economics, give them $XB to repeat all over the world. In fact if Uber didn’t mistakenly give Lyft a second life, Uber might be in a much better spot.

I think the problem is, companies like Uber, Wework and Wag work really well in wealthy cities like SF and NYC, but not as well in other cities. I live in SF and WeWork “works” there are glut of companies coming in and out of the VC machine that need temporary space that end up needing to also scale up quickly. However that’s unique to SF and SF is such a large market, maybe it looks sound until it doesn’t.

University R&D IP tends to be owned by universities that it's developed at - Google's PageRank patent was owned by Stanford. Investing directly in universities won't have the desired payout.

Masayoshi Son exhibits - in my opinion - typical traits of gambling addict. A person who is trying to replicate the kicks he got from his first, lucky bet on a horse races. (Alibaba in his case)

So you should not analyse SoftBank investments in terms of logic but more in terms of underlying self-destructive behavior.

It's just a nice name. It's a generic fund to invest mostly oil money and designed to focus on tech for the higher returns. The problem is that the fund is massive and there's a limit to how much capital you can efficiently deploy at once, especially with such a disconnected leadership team.

The size was originally used as a brute-force growth tactic and competition clearer, but now it's clear that it's just leading to unviable business models and vastly inflated valuations while hurting more promising companies that have to compete in this bubble environment.

It sounds like moonshots were the original goal for them, then they realized how much slower and capital intensive atom based innovation is, compared to "bits" based innovation. They wanted to invest in the next SpaceX, then were tempted by the much faster "growing" entities like WeWork.

The “vision” of Uber, WeWork and so on is to radically redefine the relationship between worker and company and company and regulators, then the Vision Fund can swoop in and profit in a world with no workers rights, benefits, job security etc. Fortunately it seems that people are waking up.

When you have $1M to invest you have a ton of options. When you have $100B to invest, your options are more limited.

I don’t think that’s true. When you have $100B and are hoping to earn a 10x return, your options are limited. $100B is only about 2.5 the size of Harvard University’s endowment, IIRC. You could manage that $100B like an oversized hedge fund and still make money, but probably not 10x returns.

> You could manage that $100B like an oversized hedge fund

The largest couple hedge funds are in the broad neighborhood of that size, so perhaps not too oversized.

Your options are more limited even if you would be happy with steady-ish returns averaging 12%/year. There simply isn't as many options to choose from.

Right - there are incredible cancer immunotherapy and other biotech startups that are on the cusp of HUGE things. Softbank is clearly at a point where it has more capital than sense.

I'm pretty sure $50Bn could get us Fusion. Instead it got us slightly better taxis.

We've only invested $1Bn in fusion (according to this article: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/fission-fusion-capital-flow...). Physicists have been saying "we're close" for like 70 years.

It took the Manhattan project the equivalent of $23Bn. If we had the same type of investment, we could have clean and (almost) free energy forever. Instead we spend like 20% of GDP on energy per year. And destroy our only planet...

It's not like the stakes are high or anything.

"When the technology matures, according to Mowry, the wholesale price for fusion fuel is expected to be around $50-60 per megawatt-hour"

I think it's telling that the most optimistic scenario they can come up with is "someday it might be competitive with fossil fuels if you consider the cost of fuel only".

The thing is, if fission is uncompetitive in the long run because of capital costs, can you, with a straight face, claim that fusion will be better, even in 50 years?

Edit: Of course, making fossil fuel more expensive would change the calculus. But my point is, since that is a prerequisite to addressing climate change anyway, we shouldn't be talking about fusion as a particular alternative.

I can say that: fusion is objectively better than fossil fuels because it’s a sustainable source of energy that doesn’t destroy future generations’ prospects for a decent life. If you were to calculate the real costs of fossil fuels, including the effects on climate, I’m sure fusion comes out ahead. We don’t consider those costs typically, so we’re effectively externalizing them onto future generations.

It's hard to say a hypothetical energy source (commercially-viable fusion) is objectively better than one that actually exists.

A hypothetical, completely clean energy source is objectively better than one that emits greenhouse gasses, on its face.

I'll counter with a hypothetical way to clean up greenhouse gases using fossil fuels.

That is, until something can be put into production, it is not a superior product.

Ok, let’s add “renewable” to the equation. How do fossil fuels stack up to a clean, renewable source of energy?

> We've only invested $1Bn in fusion (according to this article)

This is patently untrue. ITER, the source cited in that article [0], gives a cost so far of $15 billion and rising just for one facility.

What the article actually says is that $1 billion has been invested by venture capital firms in fusion since 2002. Most of the investment, like in the Manhattan Project, comes instead from government sources.

[0] http://www.iter.org/faq#Do_we_really_know_how_much_ITER_will...

> I'm pretty sure $50Bn could get us Fusion. Instead it got us slightly better taxis.

It's not construction work, you can't just hire more people to speed up research. When you have the top 50 or so scientists in the field, you just need to wait for results.

The CFS group at MIT is trying to build a larger test reactor to show Q > 1 results. In some cases, it is a matter of scaling up (construction work) a hypothesis.

Agreed on your research point within the context of one approach in one company.

It's easy to be "on the cusp" of major advancements, discoveries, etc. It's something else entirely to actually deliver on them. Everyone believes they'll be the one to discover that new thing that radically changes the world when realistically, no one can plan or estimate when breakthroughs will occur and how they will be applied.

It's the equivalent of the software developers' "I'm 90% done, I just have to.."

FYI I'm pretty sure the vision fund dumped its entire stake in nvidia. Maybe they'll sell arm next.

> disease-eliminating, fundamental-science research

It is hard to show "traction" and "exponential growth" with this kind of things.

One question is: Why would a promising startup take a $5-20M investment from Vision Fund and not from somebody else?

If you are $10M investment in a fund of $100B you won't be getting much support or mind share from your investor. It's not just VCs shopping for companies to invest in. It's also companies thinking from whom to take the money.

Some companies are perfectly happy to take dumb money. It’s still money.

The vision fund was a joke to me ever since the investment into Improbable (which I regard as an outright scam).

I’d love to read more of your take on Improbable.

The Vision fund was never really about funding breakthrough technology but instead moving the Saudi's economy away from a dependence on oil.

That aside, when you have $100B investing it is actually quite challenging. Take Stripe, for example, a fantastic private company that is valued at over $33B, but it has raised drastically less money than Uber or WeWork.

In order to deploy $100B it isn't enough to make $300MM bets because it would require 333 such investments. Just imagine. You would need 330 companies the size of Stripe and lead a late stage growth round to deploy that amount of capital.

Now Stripe has raised less money because they are more capital efficient and aren't burning cash like Uber or WeWork.

With Uber, at least there was a game plan because it was a tech company. Now it isn't important to debate how much of a "tech" company Uber is, simply think of tech as leverage. Which is the basic idea of tech companies, meaning that you write code once and then you can infinitely replicate at a near zero cost. While building something physical, your cost doesn't decrease towards this zero amount.

People also thought that DST was crazy when they invested at Facebook at a $10B valuation, but that has worked out well for them.

So regardless, Uber was a good investment and worth the risk, and still we have to wait and see where Uber is trading in 2-3 years time.

The real problem for the Vision fund is that to deploy this capital they necessarily need money losing businesses. These companies need funds to grow, so it allows them to absorb more capital which makes deploying $100B a lot easier.

Now Uber has leverage because of it's network. If you open your iPhone and you don't have an Uber waiting for you then you will stop using it. So actually there is real value in the network there.

For WeWork there is no "tech" and there is no leverage. Certainly the tech side is obvious, just look at the employee head count and the leverage side is also non-existent. There being more than 10 WeWorks in the same city for me doesn't actually make my experience of WeWork any better or worse. Which has been proven by how many coworking startups have sprung up to compete with them and are having no issues filling their office space.

So here you have a large money losing business with no leverage and as a result giving it a tech multiple was blindingly obvious to many people that it was a bad idea.

With that the Vision fund is running into real hot water. They need large growing companies in order to deploy their investment capital, but investing in money losing businesses is a risky, especially when the largest money losing businesses don't have real leverage and aren't real tech companies.

This just all unraveled a bit quicker than Softbank would have liked, but it isn't at all surprising.

To see other investments of theirs falter isn't surprising either. Because they will all follow the money losing model in order to absorb the capital, but unless they truly offer leverage then they will be either displaced, or they won't provide enough value to eventually out run their costs.

...another guy telling people how they OUGHT to spend their money. "I would have..."


It's an investment. Their top priority likely isn't eliminating diseases. Nor do most investors think it's wise to compete against Google.

I’d use a similar response to another commenter for this one as well: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21096376


I get that, but there are biotechs that can get funded on an order of magnitude of tens or hundreds of millions. If the Vision Fund with $100 billion can't make biotech investments work, who could? That's kind of my point; if Vision Fund at scale can't make risky investments work, who could? The only alternatives are the existing profit-machines like Google (Google X) or governments.

I am also not the only one with this thought; Professor Andrew Lo of MIT has a final chapter in his book "Adaptive Markets" about how he might structure a similar "big problem solving fund" akin to the Vision Fund but with arguably bolder ambitions.



And before someone argues that "they're likelier to lose a lot of money trying riskier investments", they just seemingly lost a lot of money on the "easier" investments. So if you're going to lose money, I'd rather it be on trying to solve hard problems than paying Adam Neumann.


If you continue to break the site guidelines, we're going to have to ban you. We've asked you about this multiple times already. Swipes like "LMAO", "you clearly have no understanding", "you are missing the point", "do you know anything", "you are completely ignorant", and so on are not ok here, regardless of how much you know.

I appreciate your informative comments to HN, but we need you to stop posting like this. It damages the community, which is fragile. Would you please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and fix this going forward?

I have a good friend who is a cancer researcher and they're 5 years in and think they might be able to commercialize something in another 3. Realistically, they're assuming it will be closer to five.

While I have massive respect for the people with the insight, patience, and understanding to tackle biotech, I can't imagine spending 8-10 years for the hope that maybe you've done something useful.. and then figure out if you can sell it.

Exactly this. OP doesn't seem to get it. It takes a long time and "launching" is never certain. Thank you sir.

I don't think your point makes sense. Obviously venture capital exists for biotech. Since the vision fund lost a bunch of money on safer bets, it would've been better if they lost it on risky biotech bets.

Huh? I guess if they had a crystal ball.

"This is why phony genomics software platforms are all the rage today."


Plenty of sequencing software start ups, platforms, etc that are doomed to fail in this over saturated space.

I applied to this company right at the beginning of there expansion. The person that interviewed me said he had been sleeping on couches for the last year or so, (around 2017) and working insane hours. They gave me a php coding test to implement some kind of pub/sub. I finished it. Had no real way of submitting it other than emailing it to the interviewer as a zip.

The moment the interviewer told me they worked with a php stack. I asked why they'd chosen to go with php given that the product was so new they could've chosen any newer tech. stack (JavaScript framework) and probably been better off. The interviewer didn't really response to my question.

The entire conversation with said person, was them talking at me for about 30 minutes. They said the company was going to try to pivot to developing some service surrounding their lock box service for the keys to get into people's houses for the dog walking.

It seemed very "directionless" and gave me a very bad taste in my mouth. They never got back to me or anything. Which was fine by me since I wasn't going to pursue them any further.

I had a similar experience in 2018. In fact, I think my application with them is still active, cause I also never heard back from them after my in person interview.

They had me come in at noon, said they'd serve me lunch, then directed me to a galley kitchen where there were some leftovers from something that was served the day before.

I kind of zoned out after that, cause I was hungry and also annoyed, but I remember being condescended to, everyone being late, and everyone seeming like they were in a huge hurry. Never heard a rejection or offer from them.

My ex has our dog, I told her to stop using Wag as soon as possible. I'm not trusting a company that disorganized with my dog.

A php stack is the right stack for 2017 or 2019 for a company like Wag. What would a javascript framework offer them? Their core product is connecting people and dogs. A php stack with laravel means they have a working website with authentication on day 1. What would a javascript framework offer them?

Emailing tests or documents is very common during the interview process if the company is a startup. Offer them a github link with the code if you want to standout.

Why apply without knowing the stack?

I downvoted you because there is no "right" stack. All popular languages have good web frameworks. The right one to launch with is the one your team knows the best.

I'm not sure that's the case with Javascript - there's plenty of microframeworks (express, hapi) and even a couple with bigger ambitions - like Sails.js

Last time I looked, none were comparable to Rails/Django/SpringBoot/Laravel

> I downvoted you because there is no "right" stack. All popular languages have good web frameworks. The right one to launch with is the one your team knows the best.

Surely there are more appropriate stacks for specific problem domains? Like how using R outside of data analysis is probably weird, or writing your microcontroller code in nodejs is probably a bad idea.

The law of the hammer exists, and if your tasks requires a screwdriver and all you have is a hammer it will be more challenging than need be.

You're correct but I was talking about language selection in the context of web development. There are, of course, specific domains that have language requirements.

You are setting yourself up for a much harder employee market if you're choosing something fresh and hip, though. Finding skilled js people that have experience with your framework choice will typically be harder than finding a developer that knows php and Laravel. Imho if you have no specific reason to choose one stack over another, choose a very common one (for projects where you expect to need other people to join).

Maybe I'm dumb - Can anyone tell me why PHP vs JS for a "generic" web application?

\In 2019 there are far far far more developers with real experience developing in Javascript vs PHP. There are obviously a lot of other factors in considering the base dev language, but unless you can make a strong case for PHP vs JS, I'm picking JS every time because in the generic case they both meet my needs but a lot more devs work with JS vs PHP. This is not a moral argument, but rather a practical one. What is the practical argument for PHP?

There are far fewer devs with server-side JavaScript experience. When it comes to server-side for small startups, the syntax is irrelevant compared to the maturity of the ecosystem. Look how much of the web is still Wordpress.

PHP an older and more mature language. It also is synchronous so it runs similar to C/Java/Python.

Programming full stack with JavaScript requires a different programming mindset with its asynchronous nature.

JavaScript predates PHP by five years. 'Maturity' is a subjective quality in my opinion and I also think PHP is a hot mess. JavaScript is synchronous unless you specifically utilize its asynchronous parts. Asynchronous execution is possible with PHP

> think PHP is a hot mess.

Have you used PHP in the last 5 years?

I'm not trying to pick a side here, and I'm sure modern PHP is fantastic with Laravel and all that. But it seems to me that the PHP-advocates are failing to understand that impressions matter a lot to developers. I wouldn't touch PHP with a ten-foot pole if I can. Not because modern PHP is terrible but that the baggage of terrible PHP is still strong in my memory, and I'm not willing the re-evaluate PHP as my choice for backend because of that. Period. That ship has sailed.

Sure TS with something like Express has its disadvantages but I'm ok with it. It's the tool I use for a specific job and there's a lot more useful things to learn than another language & framework just for its sake.

You might be browsing the internet in an echo chamber. Javascript gets almost as much flak as PHP for the same gobs of terrible Javascript in peoples memories.

Both are old languages and both had years of low quality devs cranking out terrible stuff.

I guess I'm coming from the perspective of having worked on terrible JS (serverside) code bases and then moved to modern PHP... I'm not calling JS a hot mess though. I'm sure there are great JS projects out there. It is really nice to use a framework again though rather than a loose collection of libraries..

> there's a lot more useful things to learn than another language & framework just for its sake.


> But it seems to me that the PHP-advocates are failing to understand that impressions matter a lot to developers.

Not a PHP advocate.

But I do recommend people think carefully before they commit to either Javascript or PHP.

Both are about equally good/bad in my opinion (I have written significant Javascript as far back as in 2005 and PHP later.)

Both are useful and both have very very effective footguns built in (unlike Java, my personal favorite, who's footguns are less effectivebut who's more famous for its built in ball and chain).

A significant advantage of PHP is it looks ugly and people already know they should be careful around it so they aren't so easily tempted to start using it for everything under the sun like they are with Javascript ;-)

I wrote some PHP on Friday.

Interesting. Which version? Did you use an IDE (and an editor with good PHP bindings)? Was it a legacy project? Does the project use composer? What didn't you like?

> I also think PHP is a hot mess.

More of a hot mess of a language than Javascript where every engine can apply their own rules and implementations, just like HTML?

Just because almost everyone uses V8, it doesn't change the fact that when you execute Javascript code, it's not guaranteed to run a certain way because each engine is based on recommendations and standards - not cemented rules. It's the same problem as having to write HTML/CSS for each browser engine.

> and I also think PHP is a hot mess

That is a mighty strong statement when trying to big javascript lol

I just pointed out some misconceptions about both JavaScript and PHP but some folks are indeed touchy, I will agree with you there.

> JavaScript predates PHP by five years.

Wikipedia tells me they're both from 1995.

This is all IMNSOHO: PHP3 was really the genesis of "PHP" which was 1997 with a decent parser, and I think the first version of what people refer to as "PHP" was PHP4 in 1999 with mainstream adoption in 2000. Many places were still doing VB6 with MS Access data stores.

So by the logic of your own opinion, Javascript would be seen as even less of a mature language than PHP because the "genesis" of JS was really the V8 engine and Node, which didn't happen until 2008-2009.

The pool of js developers available include php developers.

Specifically node developers cost more and are far fewer in numbers.

A PHP stack can maybe help you get acquired by Facebook, like a COBOL stack could ease an acquisition by an old insurance company.

> Offer them a github link with the code if you want to standout.

Make sure it's a private GitHub repo, or you ask first. Many companies prefer their coding tests to not be published online. It happens, it's unavoidable, but companies can often get by with the same test for a while if people don't post them on GitHub too much.

If they define themselves as a real estate company that has a website, sure, use a PHP framework.

If they define themselves as a technology company, which I believe they do, and they want lots of complex features for their services, and set an exorbitant valuation on that basis, then they better have the right infrastructure for that.

> Had no real way of submitting it other than emailing it to the interviewer as a zip.

Being good at email (ex: not relying on GMail, knowing basic things about line length, top-posting, signature, having your own domain(s), using an actual email client instead of webmail crap, Sieve filters and mailing list management, actually knowing how mailing-list based development works and being able to use (git) patch/diff, bonus points for offline syncing, 2x bonus for using a text client (3x bonus for xmh), 10x bonus for running your own server(s)) is a way better indicator of technical competency than the ability to sign up for a GitHub account and click a few buttons.

HTML email is a huge red flag for programmers.

On the contrary, I wouldn’t _usually_ expect a lot of value from someone who did all that.

My first intuitions would be that they’re likely reluctant to make practical compromises, slow to accept norms, and that they’re prone to chasing rabbits. They might have a role on a large team or for a very specific project, but there’s be some wariness for sure.

This is going to be a person who spends all day solving every problem my business doesn't have.

They are not applying for a job at sendgrid, or as an email implementation strategist.

Are they at least using a php framework like symfony or is it all spagetti?

Not using a PHP framework for PHP does not imply that it must be all spaghetti. There are programmers who can write clear, structured, maintainable code in straight PHP.

I interviewed with them. Their tech stack is Laravel. The whole interview seemed flaky. Now glad I got rejected.

The interviewer never told me. I never asked.

You’ve got to applaud Masayoshi Son for his tenacity at the very least. Lived through the Dot Com Crash, caused the next one 20 years later.

That’s a big achievement in my book. How many people can really say they’ve been able to do something like that?

[Edit] I should probably add a caveat that Masayoshi Son isn’t the dumb one here. No, he’s actually quite the genius, managing to convince Saudia Arabia to basically give him $45 billion and then spinning that all the way into $100 billion with the Vision Fund. I’m genuinely giving praise to the man here. He saw an opportunity and took advantage of it.

Masa Son in 1999: loses $70bn in net worth in half year.

Masa Son in 2019: hold my beer, watch dis.

TIL Masayoshi Son has the distinction of losing the most money in history (approximately $70bn during the dot com crash of 2000).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masayoshi_Son

I remember reading some commentary about how losing billions is perversely a good thing to have on your resume, as it implies:

- someone trusted you with billions

- you weren't too paralyzed by fear of risk to do anything useful

- you might even have learned from the experience

Also see The "Parable of the Talents", in Matthew 25:14–30.

Masayoshi Son took what Yuri Milner did but supercharged it - we all thought Milner and his investments and valuations were insane ($3.5 billion for Facebook - nuts!), but Softbank took it to a whole new level and ran out of growth to invest into

I wonder if his investments could really trigger something like that. Are there other investments of the Vision fund that are falling apart besides WeWork and Wag?

Uber (lost money on the IPO), Cruise (just delayed their launch, still have no product or revenue), they bought Boston Dynamics (super awesome technology but the business doesn't seem viable), Light (really awesome idea to change mobile photography, but seems an obvious failure at this point), Zume (a pizza chain buildings robots that's raised hundreds of millions of dollars...they do not have any production robots), Nuro (another overhyped self-driving startup, because Uber and Cruise weren't enough billions)...this is not an exhaustive list. I have repeatedly said SoftBank is some of the dumbest money in the Valley, and I stand by that proclamation.


Now that said, it is expected that most investments in any VC portfolio will fail! Something like a 70% failure rate, with 20% being moderately successful, and 10% being very successful is considered very good for the VC industry. But at the end of the day it's ROI - you make money or you lose money. I think SoftBank is going to lose more money than all the other VC firms simply because they started with more money to lose.

"Something like a 70% failure rate, with 20% being moderately successful, and 10% being very successful is considered very good for the VC industry."

While that's true overall, I don't think those expectations are the same for the kind of very-late-stage, pour rocket fuel on the fire investments that the Vision Fund is making.

For seed-stage investing, definitely.

The problem for late-stage investors is that it's really hard to get the same "grand slam" economics on your winners that early-stage investors can, so it's harder to make up for a bunch of washouts.

Being pretty negative on those companies.

1) Uber strategically is looking pretty good. They are the market leader in most countries and their Uber Eats business is turning out to be quite lucrative.

2) Self driving cars is a long term project so of course Cruise isn't going to have anything released just yet.

3) Boston Dynamics just launched their latest robot and has already seen pretty good adoption amongst enterprise customers. There is a huge need just in the resources industry for technologies to assist with compliance. Let along going more mass-market like construction sites.

4) Light have pivoted to being an autonomous car sensor company. And as we know there is significant potential demand in this space.

5) Nuro actually has more potential than most of the self driving car companies around by aggressively focusing on a single use case i.e. consumer goods delivery.

You effectively summarized all my points towards "Uber is fine," "Boston Dynamics is fine," and "self-driving cars are fine."

Uber is hemorrhaging money and are still competing against Lyft. What is their path towards profitability other than raising prices and losing customers? How do they become anything other than a glorified taxi company? Even if you disagree with me, you can't deny that the stock is trending downwards right now and is expected to continue to fall until after the lockup period for employees is up - that's when I think we'll see a glimpse of what Uber is really worth.

Boston Dynamics has been passed around constantly because nobody wants to keep them once they realize they can't make money. Spot is a cool robot, but they don't release a price. How many people want to spend the better part of $100k (or a leasing option) on something with incredibly limited utility? The market is tiny since the military keeps rejecting their machines.

If you believe in self-driving being the future, fine. Then that's a logical bet. I adamantly believe self-driving is like nuclear fusion - it's decades and tens of billions of dollars away from being commercially viable, if ever.

> Being pretty negative on those companies.

That's because I know how easy it is to make demoware and how hard it is to make a real product.

> How do they become anything other than a glorified taxi company?

Just curious, what's wrong with that? A global taxi dispatching service that's always available, always (debatably) efficiently routing drivers to passengers sounds like a game-winning plan. Regular taxi dispatching services weren't doing these things well, on top of just sucking since they had no real competition for so long.

> Just curious, what's wrong with that?

It just means Uber is a failed investment for SoftBank.

uber (see stock), cruise (tbf, everyone overvalued the AV space), slack (see stock), zume pizza (come on), brandless (https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/26/report-softbank-backed-bra...), compass (https://www.wsj.com/articles/softbank-backed-real-estate-bro...) ...

Which investments are doing well? Maybe Paytm?

Zume Pizza isn't just about making pizzas.

It's about being able to build autonomous restaurants. Combine that with autonomous deliveries and you have the potential for food to be delivered to people without any people involved.

Given we have an ageing population which may involve lots of people unable to leave the house this could be a trillion dollar market.

that's a very expensive vision (though I agree that it can be meaningful!), and getting there requires a lot of capital. even though it might not be about pizza in the future, it definitely is right now, and a $2B+ valuation is very rich there, esp compared to Dominos at $10B which is also very tech and automation focused, and delivering to more than 3 communities in the Peninsula/East Bay.

achieving capital intensive goals either involves having strong cash flow to reinvest into your R&D (which is what Amazon did) or having continued cash infusements (which is the Softbank strategy). WeWork is a great example of what happens when the money runs out.

the Softbank-specific angle here is that they promised 7% yearly payouts to the Saudis. the yearly dividend means that they need to extract liquid cash value out of their investments each year. surely you would agree that Zume and other similar investments are long-term speculations, and in the short term are not likely to pay much of a dividend or return through IPO either. however, Softbank is incentivized to push their investments to return value in the short term. so I'm personally very skeptical that their short-term commitments can allow them to be good stewards of companies with very long-term ambitions.

Serial market crasher, see you in 2040 for when I finally end up on the correct side of the market and can turn my stock into cash and my cash in yachts.

Agree. He for sure had a exciting life so far...

Messy is right. It's as if competently running a business people want to continue patronizing keeps slipping everybody's minds. No bootstrapped business thinks they can get away with this many gaffes in a row. Because on the very first screw-up, you lose some amount of money, and it's your own money, and it hurts, and you learn. In a startup funded like this, money is just the stuff you throw at stuff, and there's always more where that came from. Obviously the whole VC-funded hyper-growth thing doesn't guarantee success, has a low success rate in fact, but I'm starting to wonder whether those investments actively prevent success in some cases.

It actively impedes success in every environment that I've seen it in, and the only difference is that some companies have such a compelling product that they're able to be successful in spite of the problems brought about by "hyper-growth".

Somewhere core to the problem is that providing good direction is hard. Hiring good people is hard. Making sure good people are working together in the right direction is hard. "Hyper-growth" basically trivializes all those things so that you're hiring as fast as you can, which keeps you from meaningfully on-boarding people, and leaves a bunch of people without good direction.

The knock-on effects of that dynamic can be disastrous. Low morale due to shapes of listlessness. Late stage integration issues due to folks working for long periods in sporadic threads that need to be woven together. Political infighting as too many people with not really enough meaningful work to do start getting creative for their own ends at the expense of others or the organization.

I have been around and in a lot of "hyper-growth" startups, and not one of them that I interacted with operated remotely close to a well-oiled functioning organization.

> Messy is right. It's as if competently running a business people want to continue patronizing keeps slipping everybody's minds. No bootstrapped business thinks they can get away with this many gaffes in a row. Because on the very first screw-up, you lose some amount of money, and it's your own money, and it hurts, and you learn. In a startup funded like this, money is just the stuff you throw at stuff, and there's always more where that came from. Obviously the whole VC-funded hyper-growth thing doesn't guarantee success, has a low success rate in fact, but I'm starting to wonder whether those investments actively prevent success in some cases.

Is this how it is, boots on the ground wise though? I've worked for VC funded startups and we never treated budgets as something to be scoffed at and were very cost conscious.

My theory is that a lot of people read Zero to One, decided that spending more money than anyone else to build a monopoly is the best strategy (even if you work in an area with low barriers to energy), managed to find a VC fund with the same attitude (Softbank), and are now finding out that no amount of money helps you if you're selling dollar bills for $.50 over a series of years.

Hey man, movie pass was on the cusp of upending the movie industry!

These on demand - fulfilled by gig contracting platforms can _only_ provide value if there has been a big technological change that undermines expertise in a job. Uber works because of google maps knowing a faster route than even the 20 year veteran tax driver.

There hasn't been a revolutionary technology in dog walking, just people who need cash but dont know pets.

There hasnt been a revolutionary technology in grocery shopping, just people who need cash and dont care about the quality of your basket.


It's interesting you picked grocery shopping as your 2nd example because I do think it's a perfect example. In both cases you are trusting someone with something very very important and in both cases if the person is a lunatic they likely won't get harmed (vs Uber where if they do something crazy like drive off a bridge they run the risk of dying too).

Honestly, I don't think massive platforms are the way to go for such intimate things like dog walking and grocery shopping. I don't have a dog right now but I've had pets in the past. They are your family. Trusting them to a random person on a massive platform seems almost impossibly irresponsible. The same goes with letting a complete stranger shop for your food.

Funny enough I walk around my neighborhood without a dog for a bit of exercise, and have been doing this for years. A number of people who I've talked to over the years have asked me if I would walk their dog for them. I said no simply because I really enjoy not having a schedule for when I walk and I didn't want to be tied into a commitment. But my point is, I think things like dog walking and grocery shopping needs to be a small scale operation where you have a real human connection and trust level with the person doing the work. They have to be a legit friend.

Agreed. On-demand dogwalking is just an awful idea IMO. You absolutely have to build a relationship with your dogwalker and there's no reason to keep Wag in the loop once that relationship is built.

Not to mention that at scale, dogs are going to die/get lost no matter what you do, so there's a ton of risk in having a single brand that owners don't have a strong personal relationship with. I think whitelabeling the tech and then reaching customers via local brands makes a lot more sense.

I don't think food is nearly as bad. The worst you can do without malice is buy shitty food.

Wag could actually deliver value by charging for finding competent and vetted dog-walkers, so customers would be paying for all the background checks, etc. Instead, they're just a shitty rent-seeking gig economy startup.

Uber works because of the rider-driver matching, not the routing. Everyone has google maps.

Believe it or not taxi driving used to be a semi-skilled occupation. The test to drive a London black cab is notoriously difficult: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3307245/the-knowledge-taxi-tes...

Gig workers can replace tax drivers because of google maps...

Which is funny in itself since Google Maps is "free." Quotes because a lot of features are buggy when your location is turned off.

Then, according to your logic, why does Uber even exist?

For the gig economy, it is not about revolutionary technology, it is more about compound network effect. Basically, is adding (1000*n)-th unit to supply side of a 2 sided market place much more valuable, than adding n-th unit? In case of Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, any delivery service it is true. Having 10 drivers in your area make an app unseable for a rider and they need to seek other way of transportation, but having 1000 can be a game changer, it can make coverage and waiting time so convenient, that riders will always be able to use the app and will never want to seek another option. This, in it's turn, will feed back into the system, as drivers will always have work when they are online. On top of that, the market place takes upon quality assurance. If you did not like the delivery, you leave a negative feedback and move on.

In case of Uber, because of improvements in cars safety, reliability and easy of use, and navigation apps, it made it possible to reach that critical mass/density of supply to have a compound effect.

Apps like Wag will never have this, because dog walking is too personal. It's like cleaning, baby sitting, hair dressing. If you find someone that you like, you tend to stick with them. So if supply in your area growth 100x times, you still gonna use the same provider, because simple 5 start reputation system maybe fine for short stays or rides, but not adequate to match your personal preferences. Grocery shopping, on the other hand, can be commoditized. If you have a list of brands/suppliers you like, you don't care at what grocery store it was bought at and who delivers them to your doorstep.

> Uber works because of google maps knowing a faster route than even the 20 year veteran tax driver.

Who also use google maps to do their route planning...

Just give it a few years: drone-based dog walking.

A heavier Boston Dynamics Spot.. dog walking a dog.

AR goggles for dogs, with remote-controlled training and control characters.

uber has their own mapping. and no, it or google maps is decidedly not better than local knowledge.

> is decidedly not better than local knowledge.

any proof? I will say it falls down w/ construction zones and road changes.

All of the mapping programs are good at longer flows, they all suck in cities with lights and arbitrary delays.

I just did a drive from Tampa, FL to Albany, NY. Waze and Google calculated the drive time within 10 minutes.

My commute is about 12 minutes. Both Google and Waze will dump you on routes that will double or triple that.

I generally swear by Google maps, but did notice that Google prefers to not take shortcuts. Just recently in Seattle area, Google would have me take I5 in traffic, while manually dragging a dot onto a smaller road would have the same Google tell me it's going to be 7-10 minutes faster that way. Then you'd remove the dot and it's back to I5, +7 minutes to driving time. I've seen similar cases before, including e.g. a slowww light next to my house you can avoid by driving, however slowly, down a residential street with 0 traffic. This is presumably because of the tragedy of the commons that would ensue if it directed people there.

In my town it doesn't seem to be aware of the roads that taxis can use but which are closed to 'normal' traffic.

I think Softbank's main problem is that they fund opportunity without considering execution at all. It's very possible that a dog walking service could be a multibillion opportunity (millennials/gen Z choosing to have pets over kids in greater numbers and working FT), but was there really anything special about this specific team that would lead anyone to believe they could execute with a $300m injection? I don't think so.

But.. they said they are all experts and care about animals! And the founders are super-genius hackers from MIT!

A business like this that doesn't really rely on technology would be far better run if it was helmed by MBAs with operational experience.

This entire business is basically a gigantic spreadsheet where you move things around to optimize profitability. Believing that this is a "tech" startup is where you start to fail.

I see so many businesses fail to make this distinction.

Stripe is a tech company, as is Boston Dynamics. But Wag is a tech leveraged business.

It’s like pretty much every other one of these market making companies. At a local level—it’s something that people can and do organize with telephones, email, and maybe calendars and spreadsheets.

I’m not sure what the advantage of having the same service exist in a bunch of cities is.

And you have the usual problem that most people prefer to use individuals they are comfortable with and have maybe been recommended by friends. Especially for something like dog walking.

Maybe there’s a market for selling dog walking business kits with software. But that’s not $300m.

I can understand the advantage of a global player in a category like transportation. Being able to Uber anywhere takes a lot of the pain out of traveling.

But things like babysitting or dogwalking don't offer any advantages if they are globally available. You're going to need a dog walker in the same city, the same house, the same neighborhood. Most people would rather just find one walker they like and stick with them

Even with Uber, the number of people who flit between cities around the world in a regular basis is fairly small. I travel quite a bit, including globally, and I don’t really use Uber much.

But there’s some advantage to being global or at least national in a way that isn’t relevant for services you use almost entirely at home.

My current org is composed of mostly MS and PHDs (I'd honestly say 60% have graduate degrees), the only thing it convinced me of is that if you're working in my company and went to MIT (or any other good school) something is wrong with you or you're a foreigner who took whatever job was willing to sponsor your green card.

Don't blame the founders the expertised ex-yahoo put the nail into any growth by killing the marketing budget.

>Mike Walsh, a general partner at Structure Capital, which was an early investor in Wag, described the brothers to CNN Business as "so smart" that it's "almost difficult to communicate" with them.

Can also be read as smart with poor social skills.

Can also be read as, “Mike Walsh is so poor at sniffing out bullshit, he calls the bull ‘smart’. It’s not the bull’s fault Mr. Walsh can’t communicate him, it’s because the bull’s so smart, Mike can’t understand him.”

i don’t think that’s an “also”. it is the intended reading.

I used to work at Wag a for a few months, leaving shortly after the new CEO was brought on and they received the SoftBank investment. The fact that things got worse since then is not surprising. Management was already pretty disorganized, they were bad at managing funds (the salary discrepancies were very real), and putting it mildly it was just an unpleasant place to be. There was a staggering amount of turnover, especially with tech roles, in the short time I was there - one minute someone would get called into a meeting and that was the last I saw of them. I cant imagine the technical debt they've been accruing from having a carousel of developers.

I know they wanted to position themselves as the one stop shop for dog everything (not just walks but sitting/boarding, training, food delivery, etc) which is what I think helped them raise the funds, but I think they've taken too long to resolve the issues around their bread and butter of dog walking. The fact that the Viners and Meltzer are all since left as well is pretty telling.

To be fair, I'm shocked that so many people trust strangers to walk their dogs. That's insanity and no wonder they get so much hate press. Unsustainable and we're just a few escaped/dead/stolen dogs away from them imploding completely.

Hot take - when it's all said and done (e.g. when the whole fund gets returned) the vision fund is going to devalue more companies than it is going to value them. If they're charging a management fee then they'll still make money but their LPs aint gonna be happy in the long term.

Reading the title has affirmed to me that we are living in a bubble (and it doesn't look good). I just can't get it through my head how an investment of that size will EVER pay off. A major reason people buy dogs is because they want to get out and walk more. If they can't they outsource it to a teenager you or your friends know, there's no need for a middleman in most cases. (If it was baby-sitting I could understand more it as there is far less flexibility.)

WeWork's valuations have also seemed strange to me, when they don't have any assets of infrastructure to warrant such a high value. There's very little stopping others renting office space, in fact a friend of mine has done just that.

People have been "sure" there's a bubble for a decade now. I mean take this HN article, posted Apr 19, 2012: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3865744

How much are you investing on your suredness that there's a bubble? Because if you did it in 2012, you'd be down about 70% right now.

It's important to remember that unsustainable things can last longer than you anticipate. I firmly believe the bubble will burst (a bit, there's too much real value for a collapse), but I have no idea if it will be tomorrow or if it will be a decade from now.

saying is "The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent"

The bubble talk goes back further than that. Lookup The Richter Scales for a fun example.

And yes you’d have mostly been wrong about the Facebooks of the world.

The current generation of money-losing startups is a lot more problematic. And some of the questionable IPOs have already fared pretty badly.

I’d also argue though that I’m not sure most of these companies matter much in the scheme of the larger economy. And probably not even the tech sector relative to the big employers.

In our modern isolated and busy times, many of us don't have neighbors to call on for dogsitting. Dogsitting business is in demand.

The big issue with the product is that after the first transaction, no-one has any incentive to use your marketplace.

There is a company in my country doing this. They are probably not worth zero tbf but they have a massive issue with people just cutting them out after the first transaction.

And what is the problem with just building a brand? I employ a bunch of dog walkers, I do checks on them, I build a trusted brand...the $300m is a solution without a problem.

I watch dogs through Rover and they do have mechanisms to lock you in. The primary one is that your rank in the search results is strongly affected by repeat transactions and the number of repeat customers is listed prominently in your profile as an indication of your trustworthiness. Once I hit a certain threshold, I had to raise my prices to 30% above the area average in order to keep the number of requests down to a level that I was prepared to accommodate. The second is that Rover actually does provide a service to its sitters. They have great support that has helped me through a few crises (including a dog dying in my home from a heart attack) and insurance coverage.

People have told me their Uber/Lyft drivers offer to be their personal driver for the trip when they pick them up from airports. Not sure how common this is.

Back in the day I used to drive a shuttle and once in awhile I'd get pressured into taking a passenger that wasn't related to the business I was employed by. It's pretty harmless but still a big no-no since you're technically breaking some laws since there are certain loops you have to jump through to take on fares like that (got screamed at by towncar drivers when I arrived at the airport. I'm sure they were thrilled when Uber became a thing). Anyways the passengers paid 40 bucks for a 20 minute drive. That was the going rate they were used to paying back in 2008. There's a LOT of incentive to cut out the middle man.

> Wag looked like tech's next Big Thing

Uhh, what? No, it didn't. Even the bull case never imagined it as anything like a "next big thing."

It tells you a lot about the current state of innovation when a solution to dog-walking is being touted as the "Next Big Thing."

What's "bull case"?

i know there is this meme about all software companies just bundling and unbundling things, but can we please stop putting tens of milllions into startups that are literally just:

"App for Y that know allows you to work like before but without labour rights"

and invest money into stuff that actually deserves to be called an invention. Idk cure cancer, flying cars, making infrastructure cheaper, something that actually gets productivity up in the long term

That requires actual domain expertise outside of being able to hack together a webapp, though. Learning what you need to know about the dog-walking industry takes something on the order of weeks. Learning about medicine, finance, etc. is actually difficult.

The startup I work for is in property insurance, and while the software we've written is cool, the business hasn't gone belly-up yet since we have good insurance analysts, actuaries, lawyers, salespeople, etcetera.

Be aware: audio will start playing out of your speakers if they are on.

Welcome to the internet. Every single website has auto-playing video now.

Firefox has an option to turn it off. I think it's the only browser with that.

The lesson I think is to be learned here, is that without passion, even money cannot help.

If CEO and top executives really cared about a startup for dogs, they would have come up with solutions for the most recurring problems (e.g. dogs getting lost, or mistreated). How hard is to make a leash with GPS in it and track it in an app? Or to give mandatory basic training to any new contractor?

Also the way they treated the customer service employees is disgusting.

Plan to get taken for a walk, end up getting taken for a ride. Figures.

I don't think that a good company can grow from a massive investment that early. The VC fund wants the company to spend the money and grow value quickly, not sit on it for years. That puts pressure on leadership to waste time and money worrying about building out offices, hiring top talent, contracting with big agencies, etc. None of that work has anything to do with building a quality product, growing a functional culture, or paying attention to what customers are saying. It suspends financial reality for both leadership and rank/file; instead it encourages waste.

Does closing a $250K contract matter? In a scrappy startup, that contract is a huge win. In an overfunded startup, its often considered a distraction.

If you're Saudi Arabia with a silly amount of money in cash, are you looking for 10-100x return out of this, or are you simply looking for a place to park liquid funds that won't lose as much as leaving it in German government bonds.

No. Without overcomplicating things, Saudi are the dumbest money out there. They have no idea at all. Even the ones that have worked at IBanks, have no real understanding of basic finance (and likely only got the job so the bank could try to bribe members of their family). To get an investment, you just need to bribe the right people...that is how they invest (I used to know two very junior royal family members, they were unquestionably two of the stupidest people I have ever met...they failed school, ended up a prestigious uni, paid people to do their work, and then ended up in banking...somehow).

I wouldn't try to analyse it. A smart Japanese guy took them for a ride, he took a cut, and then handed it to some software developers in Silicon Valley who saved some and then spent the rest. That is it. No value created. No investments. Just redistribution away from stupid people.

Btw, this happened in the 1970s too. When the oil price spiked, the Saudis didn't know what to do with their cash so they just deposited it in US banks. The US banks didn't know what to do either so they started lending to South America. They knew what to do: politicians either stole it or handed it out as bribes to their supporters. The result was Citibank and a few other banks going insolvent in the early 80s, and a massive debt crisis in LatAm from 1980-1993(ish).

...the Saudis also gave a bit to Britain, who had their own debt crisis (also because of cash handouts to political supporters) and devalued a good chunk of their money away.

They will lose money always.

This is fascinating. As somebody who knows nothing at all about this.. are there any detailed books on the subject?

Why not just put it index funds? If you already have far more money than you need, the average market rate of return should be acceptable. There's no need to try and 10x or 100x without, well, losing all of it, since the type of investments with that potential high of an upside are incredibly risky. Don't bet the farm.

Too much money. Once you pass a certain amount of money, it is very hard to diversify because you are such a large share of the market. I am not exactly sure where this number lies nowadays but once you pass $10bn or so, you can't own much outside the S&P500 without running into liquidity problems.

The only market with infinite liquidity is US Treasuries (that is where the Chinese put their $3trn of foreign currency reserves). Mortgage-backed were liquid until GFC, and liquidity in corporates is falling because dealers can't carry inventory (afaik, not expert...MBS pre-GFC was ultra liquid for sure though and seen as an alternative to USTs).

The Saudis own $150bn here (and growing because of Trump/MBS relationship apparently) but I think the issue the Saudis have is that they have a fucking huge budget deficit. There are tons of people on do-nothing, civil servant jobs (mainly royal family members), they have to spend a ton on defence (ostensibly against external threat but the royal family is terrified of an uprising too), and they spend a ton on welfare to buy popularity.

They are definitely investing for a return.

Or are you spending money on PR that might even get you a direct ROI? Putting $50bn in VC that is primarily invested in the US likely buys you some sympathy, legitimacy and connections.

mega yachts aren't cheap

This is fucking insane. $300M for a dog walking company, a dog walking company. A dog walking company. A fucking dog walking company.

Ok, but please don't post unsubstantive comments to Hacker News.

Can we make a small exception for when the comment perfectly elucidates what everyone is actually thinking while reading the article?

I’m sorry, all due respect, but.... a dog walking company.

Well, let's apply the HN guidelines [1] and, more importantly their spirit, to this case. That spirit is to be reflective rather than reflexive [2], which means to interrupt the rapid reflex that springs up immediately ("what everyone is actually thinking"), inhibit the temptation to react, and give the slower, reflective part of the brain time to catch up.

When I do that, the first thing that comes to me is that the dog-owner market is huge—so huge that $300M is likely a small number rather than a large one. Moreover, the emotions that people have about their dogs are intense, profound, and deeply personal. ("Dogs are the new kids", reads a coffee mug I once saw in a kitchen in San Francisco.) So this market is not only broad, it's deep; the potential customers are not only numerous but the chance for repeat business is high. Probably there's a huge opportunity here, if you can satisfy people's needs or at least give them a feeling of that. As for dog-walking sounding trivial, if you've ever been (or known) a stressed-out, overworked dog owner and how it feels to face your sad unwalked dog in the evening when you have no energy left to do anything, this is actually not trivial at all. It is not only a form of suffering, it's closely connected with deeper forms of suffering—because so many of us invest our unfulfilled relational capacity into our pets. People will spend a lot of money to relieve a problem like that. In short: huge market, repeat business, premium pricing.

I know nothing about Wag, but this is more than enough to see how the GP comment broke the HN guidelines by being a shallow dismissal. I totally get why people want to post that kind of rant and share that perspective—I share it too, it's fun and creates a sense of community in its own way. But we have to remember what we're optimizing for on HN. There are tradeoffs in the kinds of discussion we get to have. If we take the shallow route and go for the sugar rush of piling on stupidity at a distance, we forego the quieter, insightful kind of discussion. Compounded, this determines the kind of site Hacker News is going to be.

Edit: I read the article, which seems to me unusually good and to deserve a more thoughtful discussion than most comments have offered here so far. Among other things, it makes clear that the issue is not "a fucking dog walking company" being a bad business per se, because a competitor is actually doing better.

1. https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

2. https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...

Thank you for the extremely thoughtful reply. Of course, I agree completely.

Opportunity can often be so right under your nose that you scoff at people ridiculous enough to go and try to address that need.

I meant my comment more tongue-in-cheek as a bit of catharsis, for how hard we can tend to strive at an obscure problem while not addressing the low hanging fruit.

Do you have any reading (books, blogs, etc) on this concept of reactive vs reflective thinking? I don't think I've ever seen it described this way and it nails a verbal description to something I've desperately tried to describe to myself and teach other people for years...

"Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman.

Wow ! If I ever need to explain to somebody what's so special in HN, I will point them to this answer.

Thank you for fantastic work.

What the person is trying to say is these startups are essentially playing by the rules of "crossing the chasm", "the lean startup" etc, but only in the most theatrical and vapid of ways.

It's an application of the startup playbook on something essentially meaningless.

Wag is an idea that could be well executed in about 2 million - a trendy app, some "social networking" for dogs and their owners, a form of payment and you're done. Moving on in life, left the building with everything working forever kind of done

But this isn't about that, this is startup theater of the absurd and incompetent.

Add on to that the myth that competent execution can be done by bozos if you simply give them more money (people don't magically become smarter with more money) and you get this - ships of well paid fools going through the startup motions.

A dog walking company...

Your comment comes closer to being substantive, which is often the case with the reactions people post to our requests not to post unsubstantive comments.

Even so, while I understand your perception and like most people I intuitively feel like it must be true in many cases, I'm missing any sense of what specifically makes it true in this case, other than that "dog-walking" sounds trivial. A line of the form "Wag is an idea that could be well executed in about 2 million" feels to me like it's in the orbit of "I could implement that in a weekend"—the sort of thing people say when they're not personally close to the problem, because everything seems smaller at a distance.

Similarly with what you say about "bozos" and "well-paid fools"—ok, such humans exist, maybe including some of the humans who see others as bozos and fools—but do you know something specific about the individuals here? If you think you do, do you really know it, or might this be hearsay based on very little information? Usually what comments like this do is repeat generic reactions about a common topic, which is actually the opposite of a substantive HN comment.

Tabloiding specific people in public forums is certainly bad form.

I've run across people at wag and other x as a service companies, it's all the same, just some niche carving of fiverr or taskrabbit with a lot of hype and very little substance.

Some like deliveroo out of the UK are genuinely competent but most are just doing theater

I work for a Healthcare startup and we are actually delivering health care and value to patients, care providers and insurers, and we are scrutinized 50 ways from Sunday in order to get table scraps, because most of them don't think we have a real business. But dog walking seems like the next market defining breakout.

Providing value != running a viable business. Also the article pretty strongly suggest dog walking is NOT a breakout market?

People have dogs but don't want to walk them. It isn't that hard to grasp.

This does not add any value

There are so many spontaneous adds on this freaking page I can't even read the article because the text jumps away to make room for god know what product they want me to buy...

Man, what a trend this has grown to be.

How the hell are they loosing money they take a big cut from a service that they invest 0 money into outside of marketing. If the app worked half decently their cs expenses would be low.

I think it's because instead of their app being a way to earn recurring revenue by being a go-between between dog walkers and dog owners, it's more of a way for dog-walkers to build up their client list, who no longer need Wag skimming off profit in the middle.

They claim that they'll charge walkers $1000 if they provide services to a Wag client outside of the service, but I'd be surprised if that's legally enforceable:


I used to always look amusingly at their billboard on 101, as they seemed like an Uber for dogs and the next Webvan.

Till I realized how much money they have raised... And I...



Anyone have insight into Nuro? I was thinking of applying but now need to second guess joining any SoftBank co.

I work at Nuro, what do you want to know?

I've sold out.

I don't care about the last 10% potential. This market is fucked

Is it possible for investment funds to become insolvent?

Best title ever.

The new Pets.com?

How would have JavaScript made them better off?

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21096033 and marked it off-topic.

Don't eat the bait. This will devolve into yet another pointless discussion.


Ability to find php developers is usually a reason to choose php. It's actually harder to find good js developers.

Javascript frameworks work nicely with php acting as an api. An even better approach is a hybrid that allows you to use a framework like Vue/React or a libruary like jQuery but also allows you to use php to power your pages. This gives you the ability to have an spa per section.

A common approach is to use an api to deliver data to your mobile app. If you've built it in php that can be reused.

Hey! New dev honestly trying to learn why PHP matters at all in 2019. Is PHP something I should stop learning JS for? In all my (very limited) experience, PHP does not solve any problem JavaScript can't, and JS is also far more in demand.

If we're talking about JS/PHP, we're talking about web development. Front-end stuff has to be done in JS (you can use something else that compiles to JS but I expect you would find that difficult with zero JS knowledge). Back-end stuff can be done in any language, although some (e.g. PHP, Ruby, Python, JS) are more common than say C++. So you can do web development using only JS. But different languages have different pros/cons/approaches, so it's definitely worth venturing outside the JS world at some point. However, if you're still relatively new to JS you should focus on getting to a decent level in that first.

Any language can solve similiar problems.

Take this built-in php function: array_column

array_column() returns the values from a single column of the input, identified by the column_key

To perform the same in Javascript you either need to write something or find a package. There are many examples like this of build-in useful functionality.

PHP allows you to do a lot with very little code which allows you to focus on a difficult problem rather than a difficult problem and how to shape it with whatever language.

Keep learning javascript but don't try to do everything with it. Ignoring php, ruby or python on the backend will slow you down. Ignoring sql would be another mistake.

> Hey! New dev honestly trying to learn why PHP matters at all in 2019. Is PHP something I should stop learning JS for? In all my (very limited) experience, PHP does not solve any problem JavaScript can't, and JS is also far more in demand.

If the only motivation for learning a language is applicability to the job field, javascript probably will open more doors at this point, depending on your location.

PHP is really great for getting MVPs out the door in my experience, but a productive engineer in any language would likely have the same experience in the language of their choosing. I am by no means a PHP developer though.

Honestly, it depends on the location and the industry you want to work in.

Having said that, PHP and JS aren’t the only ones. You will also find Java, Python, Ruby, C# for examples.

> PHP does not solve any problem JavaScript can’t

Any language will solve anything you can do in any other language.

> JS is also more in demand

Depends on industry, location and even teams at the company as well as the standards and requirements which could vary by project.

Having said all that, if you‘re learning JS, yes, you can find jobs that use it.

Bro, let me tell you, there’s a reason why people say “Never bet against Javascript”.

If you become a great Javascript dev it will open you to far more opportunities, front end, back end, and everything in between.

> PHP does not solve any problem JavaScript can't.

PHP matters and if anything it would be good for you to learn both. It will give you a better insight on different ways to build software and use the appropriate solution.

PHP is a mature ecosystem with reliable tools/frameworks. It is relatively easy to learn and you can become productive quickly.

One benefit I find of PHP that is less mentioned:

When your team is short on people (and that happens quite often), you can pretty much throw anyone (provided they are generally competent) at a PHP codebase and they will do well. Wouldn't say the same for a back-end JS project, I've seen what a Java developer can do to a JS codebase.

PHP bites far less often than JS in my opinion.

I do a lot of utility programming in it.. (prob cause I know it well)

* quick web scraping script (just with curl or file_get_contents) not the insane https-request-libs

* parsing some CSV files and generate SQL statements

* one-page website for monitoring/dashboard

* logging scripts (speed test hourly - working on article)

Even built a CLI xml feed processing system with it. Php7 is really fast and memory efficient. Not saying there aren't better or faster languages.

Guess its just a tool a reach for often, since I know it well and you can get far with a basic install without loading 1000 of npm/js packages. I only seldom need to use composer for my my* purposes.

The point wasn't that javascript would be better, it was that the person couldn't answer why they chose an older tech stack instead of one of the newer ones.

There are a lot of reasons why choosing a mature tech stack is a better idea than the stack-du-jour. Better support, less bugs, and you know you won't be rewriting to the next stack when this one gets abandoned in a year.

It's an app that connects dog owners with dog walkers. People here are treating it like it was a CERN project.

How is php old? Is c++, c#, Java etc considered old and should not be chosen too?

The point isn't that those choices are older and therefore worse, it's that there are now more choices. They should be able to say why they went with PHP over something else that was available at the time they started.

> They should be able to say why they went with PHP over something else that was available at the time they started.

Why, exactly? PHP, node, Ruby, Java, .NET, and Python are all capable tools with mature webapp frameworks. In terms of capabilities, the differences between them only matter for a small and rare set of projects.

They could have decided on one of these platforms by rolling a die and it would have little direct impact on their success or potential.

Presumably, the actual criteria was likely familiarity and fluency for their tech founder or early developers. This familiarity and fluency matters 1000x more to success than the differences between these frameworks.

Given that all the tools are mature and capable, having a team work with tools they know is a lot more valuable than handing them tools that they'll be learning how to use as they go.

Why? Because I wouldn't want to join a team that makes decisions for no reason.

> Presumably, the actual criteria was likely familiarity and fluency for their tech founder or early developers.

That would be a completely valid answer to the question. The fact that they didn't answer the question at all is the problem here, not that they chose PHP.

Or maybe they didn’t want to waste time on a candidate with such superficial focuses? Next time ask them why they chose to paint the wall dark blue instead of navy blue.

If they were hiring an interior designer or painter who asked why a specific color or paint type was chosen, but gave no answer... that might still be weird.

This highlights something most devs don't understand. Product development is about developing a product not about writing code. All the choices we make should facilitate making a good product, writing good code is a side effect.

In this metaphor the colour of the wall is equivalent to the product. The code is equivalent to whether the painters used brushes, pads or rollers or whether they used ladders or scaffolding - the customers do not care.

By asking why choose php you are asking why use rollers to paint.

> In this metaphor the colour of the wall is equivalent to the product.

If that's the case, asking about the choice of implementation language sounds like asking about the spec.

It might be part of the technical spec but almost certainly not part of the product spec.

The end user does not care about the programming language.

"Presumably, the actual criteria was likely familiarity and fluency for their tech founder or early developers."

Then... why is it so hard for people to just answer like that? It's a perfectly acceptable reason, but often (like the GP in this subthread) I find people won't actually answer like that. They'll try to come up with weird justifications re: technical merit vs competing tech, and I've found their specific examples might be demonstrably wrong or are just fancier ways of saying "this was a personal preference".

What's been lost in all this discussion... the state of the code. I'd much prefer a stack in XYZ with some tests, sample data, repeatable steps, etc. vs a stack in ABC without any of the above.

Why would you ask that and expect an answer? Was the person who orginally wrote the application in the room?

Did you think to ask why they were using windows instead of macs? Or why leather seats?

What were you hoping to get out of your question? Did you want to show the interviewer how hype you were? Were you hoping that you could educate them why using a javascript would be better? This was at an interview correct (not over beers with friends)? Curious how did your next interview go? Have you found work in the field? Are you working with a js framework.

I'm not the person that asked Wag this question, but I do think it was a valid one. I'll try and explain why.

Even if they weren't the person that made the choice, them knowing the reasoning behind the choice tells you a lot about the team. I usually expect new members of teams to ask questions about why the application was written the way it was. This shows a general curiosity among team members and it shows that the team can transfer knowledge to each other.

Knowing why they made decisions I might not agree with helps me decide how the team makes decisions in general. Is there one manager that decides things without input? Does the whole team give input and decide democratically? Are they saddled with technical debt from the co-founders last failed startup that's 10 years older?

You wouldn't ask for that information in that way.

Most places would say because it's faster or why would you use anything else? Not give you any company history.

Ask who makes technical decisions. Or what debt structure they have. Not why they choose aws over azure.

Assuming you're not desperate for work you're interviewing them just as much as they are you. Perfectly valid.

And you clearly misunderstood what they meant by technical debt.

Your interviewing them but in this case it was a pointless question asked at the wrong time with no possibility of anything of value coming from it.

This place uses php. It's in the job description (either that or the parent had no knowledge of what the company did before the interview) so the discovery should have happened earlier in the process.

By asking that question in that way the parent poster is signaling that he is modern but at the same time saying the company isn't modern by phrasing it that way. Wanting to understand how a company makes decisions is valid. Making judgement statements through questions is not valid.

And yes misunderstood company for technical debt reference.

Now I get you, completely fair. I think that would mostly come down to tone though.

The whole democratic voting for implementation and architecture decisions drives me crazy.

Am I being irrational?

I just want somebody to make a decision, and if it is wrong, we learn, and try something else.

If they were all using windows, I think asking about that would be extremely reasonable.

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